Voters go to the polls next Tuesday to select mayors to lead two of the largest local governments in Kansas.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
But the races aren't equal in intensity or voter interest. One is boring, while the other is being intensely waged by two dissimilar candidates.
• Mayor Carl Gerlach is running for re-election in Overland Park, and few people really care.
Gerlachs going to win his third four-year term, the second straight unopposed on the ballot. As the part-time, $24,000-a-year mayor in a suburb really run by the city manager and his staff, Gerlach is an affable, quiet-spoken leader.
Just like longtime mayor Ed Eilert before him, Gerlach has turned out to be easily electable in a growing suburb of 176,000 people with an affluent median household income of $71,600 a year.
However, Gerlach isn't a leader on regional issues such as transportation, which is unfortunate, given the size and importance of Overland Park. Even on matters crucial to the citys future especially protecting the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley schools from deep budget cuts in the Kansas Legislature Gerlach plays no vital role, saying thats up to school officials.
Business interests hold the most sway in Overland Park, and theyve been quite successful getting excessive taxpayer subsidies approved by the City Council in recent years.
Gerlach remains popular with his low-key approach and good sense of humor. He also occasionally pleasantly surprises, such as his stance to keep the controversial semi-nude statue at the citys arboretum.
• In Wyandotte County, by contrast, Mark Holland and Ann Murguia are battling hard to become the next mayor and CEO of the Unified Government.
Its a full-time position paying $85,467 a year, and the countys political leader is the heart and soul of the Unified Government to the rest of the region.
Holland and Murguia are trying to win while sporting different personalities to serve a slow-growing county with 159,000 residents and a median household income of only $39,800, far less than in Overland Park.
The laid-back Holland looks on the sunny side of the street, usually meeting any criticism of the county with an upbeat pronouncement about how things are going to get better. His supporters say he's just the kind of person to follow Mayor Joe Reardon as someone who looks at the big picture, trying to bring more economic growth to Kansas City, Kan.
Murguia isn't afraid of ruffling feathers, which supporters say helps explain why she's gotten so much done in the lower-income neighborhoods she has served for six years on the countys board of commissioners. More services such as a modern library are coming to her district, they say, thanks to her abilities to pull people together behind common causes.
For this regions future, the position of mayor in the Unified Government is far more important than the similar post in Overland Park. If the next mayor fails to keep things moving forward in Wyandotte County, that would be a big blow for the entire area.
Holland is best qualified to be that leader, given his six years of at-large service as a commissioner and his clear view of the countys needs.
No matter who wins, the next mayor must finally keep two long-standing promises that have fallen by the wayside too often in the county: Property taxes must be reduced, and far more economic development must be pursued in the urban core.
On Election Night, Gerlach knows hell celebrate victory to another easy-going term as Overland Parks mayor.
Holland and Murguia will be crossing their fingers, each hoping theyll get to tackle a far more difficult job in Wyandotte County.